Calling all competitive food lovers: Your March Madness is about to begin. Each year Best Bites Blog picks a popular dish and pits local purveyors against one another to establish a victor in the category. Last year fried dough flew as doughnuts went round for round in the Great Doughnut Derby, with Mac’s Donuts, emerging triumphant. This year’s tournament promises to be even more exciting.
Washingtonians have long proved their love for sandwiches, whether in the form of a breakfast “brick” at Market Lunch, midday pastrami from DGS, or a Ray’s to the Third steak and cheese come dinnertime. Established spots like the Italian Store have maintained a loyal following through the decades, while newcomers such as Red Apron are pushing the sandwich scene to new heights. So who makes the best? We’ve narrowed down a list of 16 of the most popular sandwich-makers so you can pick a winner.
We know sandwiches are a little like children—it’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite. This list certainly isn’t reflective of every great bread-bound dish in Washington (if it were, we’d be running the competition into May). We’ve simply picked a range of cuisines and styles that are reflective of the area’s great offerings.
Each weekday beginning Monday, March 17, we’ll publish a post pitting two eateries against each other until a winner emerges in the final rounds. Fill out your bracket, then vote each day in our online poll. The winner will get bragging rights, as their title of Sandwich King or Queen will be posted on our website and social media.
May the best sandwich win!
For our March issue, we asked Seasonal Pantry chef Dan O’Brien to create his dream breakfast sandwich and share the recipe. He delivered way beyond eggs and bacon: a crispy, spicy, drippy-in-the-best-way-possible fried chicken sandwich, stacked on a whole loaf of brioche and topped with fried eggs, blue cheese, and locally made Gordy’s pickles. We’ve been craving it ever since.
O’Brien doesn’t typically churn these out at his Shaw market, but after dozens of calls and Twitter requests once the recipe went live this morning, he’s making an exception. Starting Friday, customers can call Seasonal between 10 and noon to preorder the limited-supply sandwiches for $12 each (up to four per person). Nearly everything will be the same as pictured, though the size will be pared down to individual brioche buns instead of whole, shareable loaves. The hot hot chicken, a Tennessee classic, takes a day to marinate in buttermilk and spices, so orders will be available for pickup at a set time on Sunday, starting at noon. O’Brien will also brew peach iced tea made from fruits he froze last summer to sip with your meal.
If you miss out this weekend, don’t worry. O’Brien plans to team up with Blue Duck Tavern pastry chef Naomi Gallego in April for a riff on the hot hot chicken loaf, this time made with savory doughnuts. Stay tuned for more details.
Fighting words from the Diamond State! Vice President Joe Biden was among the first customers at the grand opening of DC’s first Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop earlier today; the Delaware-based chain has long been a Biden favorite. In addition to ordering lunch, the aviator-clad VP was also ready to take on one of the biggest culinary debates of all time: which city in America makes the best sandwich.
“‘This is gonna settle once and for all, the best sandwich in America is out of Wilmington, Del.,’” Biden is quoted as saying in a vice presidential press pool report. “‘I’m bringing one back for the President. No more of this stuff about Chicago and Philly and New York. This settles it. You guys want to get this settled. And end it. I’m ready man. The President is waiting. I’m having lunch with him today.’”
Biden then proceeded to order two medium Italian subs, no onions, one with hot peppers on the side. (“‘The only way to eat these things is with hot peppers, but not everybody understands that. You know what I mean?’”) He also snagged the Thanksgiving-themed Bobbie and a large Italian sub for his staff. According to the pool report, Biden continued “trying to convince people that Delaware makes the best sandwiches ever” while waiting for his order.
“‘The only place where Philadelphia can compete with us is steak sandwiches. Just compete. Compete. Not win,’” he said, according to the pool report.
So what do you think? Is Delaware America’s number-one sandwich city? To the poll!
The area around 1800 M Street, Northwest, isn’t lacking in sandwiches, with Taylor Gourmet, Bub and Pop’s, TakEatEasy, the New Orleans Po Boy Shop, DGS Delicatessen, and the Greek Deli all within a three-block radius—not to mention the national suspects such as Potbelly and Au Bon Pain. Still, there’s something about Delaware-based Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop that seems to generate excitement. To start, the chain is giving away free sandwiches to the first 50 people in line when the shop opens Thursday at 11. Certain homesick Delawarians are also psyched for the arrival.
Even if you’ve never craved the trademark Bobbie, here’s what to look for.
Subs with fun names
We’re not at the level of a “double double animal-style” In-n-Out Burger (sigh), but the menu gets creative. There’s a Capastrami (Capriottese for a hot pastrami Reuben), the Thanksgiving-themed Bobbie with turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, and the double-decker Cran-Slam Club—basically a Bobbie with a ham sandwich on top (hello, Thanksgiveaster). You can also order a tuna sandwich and ruin all the fun.
House- and bakery-made ingredients
Tired of watching Subway prisoners(strikethrough) employees peel cheese from a plastic sheet? You’ll find from-scratch touches here. Meats such as turkey and roast beef are slow-roasted on premises, while meatballs for an Italian-style sub are braised overnight. Bread is also delivered daily from Hyattsville’s Uptown Bakers.
Vegetarians will find soy “turkey” subs and “chicken” cheesesteaks, as well as a veggie cheeseburger. Certain items can be veganized by removing the cheese.
Unlike most sandwich chains, the M Street location won’t shutter in the evening. You’ll be able to get a late-late-night Italian sub fix until 3:30 AM on opening day, and Thursday through Saturday going forward. Multiple locations are in the works, potentially including shops in Rosslyn, Georgetown, Capitol Hill, Bethesda, Rockville, and Reston.
And possibly more Joe Biden
The VP may deviate from his Pete’s Apizza habit. Capriotti’s claims to be Biden’s hometown favorite, having delivered sandwiches for pre-debate and inaugural lunches. You may even catch Biden waiting in line for his free Bobbie.
UPDATE 1:20 PM: Make that definitely more Joe Biden. The Vice President was among the first customers at the opening this morning. According to the restaurant’s publicist, who tweeted the below picture earlier today, the VP ordered two medium Italian subs—no onions, Italian hot peppers on the side—to take to the President.
Biden also picked up a Bobbie and a large Italian sub for his staff. Could a presidential appearance be next? The duo are known to like their trips to local sandwich shops.
It started during a casual conversation with chef Victor Albisu, right after he opened Del Campo, his South American steakhouse in Penn Quarter. We were talking about the house chivito—the chef’s take on a classic Uruguayan street sandwich. The traditional ’wich layers steak, mozzarella cheese, bacon, mayo, olives, and a fried egg. At Del Campo, however, there are stacks of seared rib eye, ham, mortadella, fried egg, olives, hearts of palm, lettuce, and onion, all inside a brioche bun. And it is one tall drink of water—also pretty fat, and definitely not easy to eat. Watching it wobble as we passed the plate around the table, I joked to Albisu that it would be funny to make a video of customers trying to get their mouths around that massive sandwich. He laughed a little. Then we forgot about it.
Fast-forward a few months, when the Washingtonian food team embarked on a mission to pick Washington’s top 25 sandwiches. The resulting feature in our September issue, now on stands, celebrates one of our favorite ways of eating and calls out some of the best bread-bracketed inventions you’ll find anywhere. To accompany it, we figured why not really see what happened when you asked sandwich enthusiasts to take on the towering chivito? Readers submitted photos of themselves eating sandwiches via Facebook, and the winners were invited for an afternoon of sport eating at the Del Campo asado bar. Check out the video to see how they fared. We hope it makes you laugh—and we’re pretty certain it will make you hungry.
When sandwich folks talk about po’ boys, they often say it’s all about the bread. “The first thing people ask is, ‘What kind of bread are you using?’” says Cam McNair, who, along with Justin Snyder, owns New Orleans Po Boy Shop at 1205 19th Street, Northwest, set to open any day now. New Orleans food critic, author, and radio host Tom Fitzmorris agrees that bread is of the utmost importance when judging a po’ boy.* The traditional bread is French rolls baked by the NOLA-based German bakery Leidenheimer Baking Company. “New Orleans French bread, historically, was baked by Germans,” says Fitzmorris. French bread baked by the French is far denser and crunchier, not “cavernous” like the stuff New Orleans residents have come to know.
McNair considered Leidenheimer bread but it would have arrived already baked, then shipped frozen. For something fresher, he opted to buy his bread half-baked from Gambino’s Bakery in New Orleans suburb Metairie, best known for its king cakes. He’ll finish the baking process in-house. According to Fitzmorris, frozen bread works fine on a po’ boy, provided sandwich makers wet their hands and run them over the bread before baking. Still, he says McNair’s choice to go with Gambino’s is an interesting one, and thinks it could work well.
"What should Ripple do with all that cheese they have?" you've probably never wondered. But the owner, Roger Marmet, has. And here's what he came up with: On June 5, the Cleveland Park restaurant will debut a new grilled cheese bar. Guests in the bar area can either choose their own ingredients--there's a list of 15 fairly amazing cheeses, plus spreads like chutney and black-eyed-pea hummus and toppings that include roasted red peppers and caramelized onions--or opt for one of the sandwiches on the menu.
Take the Stinky Pete, for instance, a $9 combo of Époisses cheese, asparagus, and anchovy. "There is no Pete," says Marmet. "It just sounded funny." Other silly sandwich names include the Krusty Krab, an homage to Spongebob SquarePants's place of employ that features jumbo lump crab imperial and béchamel; and the "Swiss bank account," with hand-sliced prosciutto, Challerhocker, and truffles.
By Anna Spiegel
"Ask your butcher . . ." How many times have you seen that in a recipe and thought, "What butcher?"
Well now you have one.